Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mountain 600K Pre-ride: All Creatures Great and Small

I pre-rode the Mountain 600K ride this Saturday and Sunday. Jan Heine and Ryan Hamilton put together what was billed as a "fitting finale to a season that carried the motto "Return to the Mountains"" and that "will challenge all riders". Seeing the course ... up to Paradise on Mt. Rainier (5,400 feet), up to Windy Ridge on Mt. St. Helens (4,035 feet), up White Pass (4,500 feet) , and up Chinook Pass (5,438 feet) ... it was clear they were succesful. The question was, was I up to the challenge? Could I do it within the 40 hour time limit?

I left Eatonville at 4:00 AM. I was well rested, having gone to bed at 5:30 PM, getting up at 2:00 AM. It was cool, but I was well dressed. A new pair of AmFib tights had arrived Friday afternoon, just in time for the ride ... they were warm and wind/rain proof, so I didn't need to bring rain pants. They turned out to be well worth the price.

I was doing the ride solo, but 45 minutes into the ride I had company. A car rode along side with the driver, a young woman, asking me what I was doing, where I was going, etc. After a few minutes, she left, but ten - fifteen minutes later she pulled up again, wanting to know more details. She stopped the car and, after a brief conversation, I took off again. Another ten - fifteen minutes and she showed up again ... promising she wasn't stalking me! Another brief conversation and I left. Fortunately a little later the route took a side road, Mt. Tahoma Canyon Road, so if she was still looking for me she didn't find me!

The first control of the ride was at the Paradise Visitor Center - 5,400 feet up. It had been misting for the past several miles and was foggy. I rode up to the entrance and ... it was closed. It was just after 8:00 AM and the sign said they opened at 10:00. Not a good sign. I tried the door and it was open. Actually, they were open ... at least the climbing desk was ... the store/visitor center part didn't open till 10:00. That was fine with me. I was soon on my way.

The ride down from Paradise was chilly and wet. A badger (or something like that) ran across my path, yipping all the way, less than a mile from the top. After the long climb up I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't let it rip on the way down, but the scenery was so beautiful that I enjoyed it anyway.

Before I knew it, it was a little after 10:00 and I was in Packwood. Along with everyone else. They were having Packwood Days or something like that. There were booths up and down US-12 and lots of folks out for the day. One advantage of that was the Shell station had someone outside making sure no one parked there without going to the store. I made a snap decision and had him sign the card and left without getting any supplies ... the next control was only 16 miles away.

At Randle, the next control, I resupplied and prepared for the climb up to Windy Ridge on Mt. St Helens, 33 miles ahead. The past thirty miles had been basically downhill, but now the tables were turned and it was uphill. Between the change in grade and the warming of the day, it was time to take off the tights and jacket. Ten miles from the control was the turn to FR-26 ... but there was a sign saying the road was closed due to washout 14 miles ahead. Oh shucks! I knew that FR-99 (the last road to Windy Ridge) was closed to cars, but the route sheet doesn't say anything about this. I wasn't about to ride 14 miles uphill just to find out if it was passable or not. Since the planned route was to go up FR-26, join FR-99 to Windy Ridge, then come back via FR-99 and FR-25, I decided to go up FR-25 and then hopefully find a ranger or someone to find out if 26 was passable. So up I went.

While I have seen pictures of Mt. St Helens before, I had never been there. Pictures don't do it justice. The power that was unleashed to wipe out the miles and miles of trees must have been amazing. It was nice to have miles of road closed to cars, but the condition of the road precluded letting it rip on the downhills - there were periodic cracks in the road, boulders, landslides, etc. I made it to Windy Ridge by about 3:30 PM. It was windy (maybe that's where the name comes from), and there were threatening clouds, so I took a couple pictures and left.

I did run into a few bikers and asked them if 26 was passable ... they said it was, so I headed that way. They were right. I was able to make it through, but there were several patches of gravel, bushes overgrowing the already narrow road, and one complete washout. The picture shows the washout, taken towards the way the riders will be coming from. For them it will be at the bottom of a downhill, so hopefully they will take it easy on the way down so they can stop in time! After that the roads were better, albeit with a few short patches of gravel, and I was rolling down the mountain ... enjoying the scenery and the grade!

I rolled into Packwood again at 7:00 PM. I was just about half-way done ... two of the four climbs and 180 of the 380 miles done. Sunset was just before 8 and it was going to be sixty some miles over White Pass with no services until the next control. So I ate a sub sandwhich, called home to check in, prepared my second bottle of multi-hour Sustained Energy, and got ready for night time riding. Forty-five minutes later, I headed out.

A few miles outside of town I saw a pair of elk alongside the road. They stared at me as I stopped and took a picture ... which only shows a pair of eyes and an outline of the two ... oh well, it was dusk after all. Then the climbing started. On the Cascade 1200, when I climbed White Pass in the 90 degree heat, I had to stop several times. Tonight was not nearly so bad ... not as hot, for sure. It was a slow and steady climb. The sky was clear and the stars vivid. What a wonderful opportunity to be here! Several times I saw little field mice running along the road, caught in my bike light. When I finally made it to the top, while I had been comfortably warm, I soon chilled. I put on my hat, gloves, and the tights back on. Just after the top I startled a skunk was less than ten feet away from me with its business end pointed at me. As we left each other's company, I sniffed ... did it spray me? If it did, it must have missed me due to the wind. That's a relief!

In seven miles is one of the turns that is easy to miss ... and at this point I had turned off my Garmin GPS as it was just about at the end of the regular battery life. I've made this turn before, but it wasn't dark then. I figured by watching the mileposts I could estimate where it would be and would be okay. I found it and then turned on the GPS to confirm. Dead battery, so I went to the backup battery charger ... which has to be connected while it charges, so isn't a great setup, as I don't have it charging on the bike mount, but in the bento bag. Still, I was able to use it periodically over the next twelve miles of winding roads to confirm I was on the right one. Being in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of the night, in the cold, it was very reassuring.

Soon I was back on US-12 with a clear cut route down the mountain to the next control in Naches. The question was would there be anything open? While I probably had enough food and water to go through, it would be better to resupply and would be nice to rest a bit ... it was another eighty miles or so to the next confirmed set of services in Greenwater.

I pulled into Naches just after 2 AM and there was an open Shell Station mini-mart. They even had some bananas - no chairs though. I resupplied and asked if there was a Post Office nearby ... there was just a few blocks away on 3rd street. So I headed there and went inside. Warmth! The wind was howling outside, but I was able to sit and rest for a bit on a bench. Didn't sleep, but refreshing nonetheless. Eatonville wasn't getting any closer as I sat there, so at 3 AM I decided it was time to go. I had caught myself wanting to drift off a couple of times before Naches, so I took a caffeine pill to guard against nodding off while I was riding.

The route out of town was along the back roads, and on a couple of gravel roads (which will be changed for the regular ride). The howling wind, which had helped push me the last few miles into Naches, was no help as I headed back into the mountains. It didn't stop me, but did blow me to the side a few times. Fortunately it didn't blow for all that long - ten miles or so at most - and I was able to make steady progress.

Dawn soon arrived. I made it to the Shell station at Cliffdell at 5:45 AM, but they didn't open until 6:00 AM, so I continued on. It was only 27 miles to the top of Chinook Pass, but I didn't get there till 9:00 AM. Aside from the last five miles, it was relatively easy riding - not fast, but very enjoyable. A few deer saw me and then bounded away. Wish I had their energy! The last five miles or so were tiring ... not that they were all that steep, but steeper and it was the fourth major climb and my legs let me know it. Fortunately there were only four major climbs and soon that was history! At the top there were a few snowflakes and then the descent.

After a few miles of descending I had cold rain in my face, but that only lasted twenty minutes or so and I was able to make steady progress. At Greenwater it was time (past time!) for a good breakfast, so I pulled into Buzzy's Cafe and had a great breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns. Really hit the spot. Left there about 11:30.

A monsoon shower struck when I got to Buckly. What a downpour! Glad I had my new tights. It poured until I got to the next control in Wilkeson, mile 347. I stopped at the first opportunity, a gas station that is usually closed on Sundays but was open because the owner was painting. While I was there it stopped, so I headed out quickly. The route from here to 162 was one I hadn't been on before ... and turns out to be a figment in the Microsoft Streets & Trips imagination. After a mile or two of wandering unsigned, hilly, gravel and pothole laiden back roads I came to a dead-end. I was at the right place ... the gps showed the intersection, but the connecting road was down a hilly, wooded path/driveway with a security camera on it. That's why we pre-ride. This is not a route we'll take. So I got a few bonus miles.

Soon I was back on track and headed down the last 20 miles to Eatonville. I finally made the last turn off of Orville Road onto 161. I had been dreading this hill for a while ... and had decided I'd walk it. So I got off and started walking up. What a pain! So I got back on the bike and rode to the end, arriving at 5:00 PM. I had made it! 380 miles, four major climbs, in 37 hours. Yes, I was tired, but it had been well worth it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

SIR Fall 400K Revisited ... Certifiable ?

Well, not a complete revisit of the 400K. With the Green Hornet in the shop getting checked out after my Tuesday morning upclose inspection of the bridge deck on Baker Lake Road, I didn't have the right lighting setup for extended night riding, so I couldn't do the full ride. However, I figured out I could ride to about Sedro Woolley before it got to dark. So I drove to Sedro Woolley this morning, getting there about 6:15, then rode to Arlington where I met up with the riders, then rode with them from there back to Sedro Woolley. I figure I got in about 255K of the 400K. It was a fantastic ride - at least my portion.

The forecast was for a nice day ... in the 70's ... and it didn't disappoint. Lots of blue sky, a few high clouds, warm but not hot, and a bit of a breeze. The kind of day that helps make the mountains stand out that much more ... the green greener and the snowcaps whiter. While the ride from Arlington to Darrington, then Marblemount, then Concrete was very enjoyable on the pre-ride, since we did that stretch in the dark, we missed out on the scenery. Revisiting the ride today during daylight hours would have been worth it for the scenery alone.

There was a tragic note to this part of the ride, as the road between Darrington and Rockport was closed due to a fatal traffic accident. Most of the riders were permitted to get through the closure by walking their bikes through the ditch to get around the accident scene. However, a few were diverted along the Concrete-Sauk road and ended up with adjusted routes.

I rode from Arlington to Darrington with Joe Llona. Along with Mike Richeson, we had ridden last fall's 1000K preride together, so it was nice to ride together again. From Darrington to Marblemount, I rode with Mike ... and we caught up with Matt. Aside from the accident, it was a pleasant ride.

At Marblemount, we stopped and ate a bit of lunch ... several other riders joined us ... Joe, Andy, Ole, Frank, and Sharon Stevens from Texas. We ate in the shade as it was too warm in the sun ... at least for this almost native northwesterner. Knowing what was ahead of us, we didn't want to sit too long, so Mike, Sharon, and I headed out towards Concrete.

We quickly made it to Concrete, where we turned off and headed towards ... the hill. Having ridden it earlier in the week I knew what we were in store for. However, since we had done it in the dark and fog, I didn't know what it looked like. In the daylight it was more intimidating. The one bright spot was there was less gravel - 4 more days of traffic had packed it down a bit more. My Garmin Edge 705 recorded the climb ... the initial mile or so was generally 11-13 % grade, getting up to 15/16 % occasionally ... and looking at the elevation profile afterwards was entertaining ... it looked like a wall. Nonetheless, we did finally make it to the top. Afterwards it was suggested that anyone (i.e. me) who would knowingly do this hill twice must be certifiably insane. My only defense was I had landed on my head (in part) earlier in the week.

Once we got past the hill, the rest of the way up to Baker Lake was quite enjoyable. I rode much of the way with Sharon from Texas, who was up in the Seattle area visiting her sister and mother. The scenery ... the lush, green forest, the snow caped mountains ... and the sounds ... the babbling brooks and cascading creeks, along the otherwise quiet, smooth, and shady road were definitely enjoyed. The bridge where I crashed on Tuesday was not nearly as intimidating dry and during daylight ... I wondered how I had managed to find the gap and fall in? In any case I easily avoided the gap today.

We made it to Baker Lake Resort, but I almost didn't recognize the place. 7:30 AM on Tuesday it had been almost deserted. Saturday afternoon it was packed ... practically wall-to-wall. I can understand why, as the weather was perfect as was the setting, but it was quite the contrast. As Randannours are want to do, we sat and ate ... although not for long. While there were going to be a few hills on the way back to SR-20, for the most part they were downhill!

The ride from Baker Lake to SR-20 and then Sedro Woolley was fairly easy (aside from an occasional annoying head wind on 20) and took a couple of hours. Sharon and I pulled into the AM/PM, joining Mike, Joe, Andy, Oley, and Frank. I was done, but they were soon preparing for night riding, as dusk and then night would soon be approaching. Then we were off ... they headed off towards Arlington, I went to my car. I wasn't done yet though ... it was time to find Dairy Queen ! I found one in Mt.Vernon and celebrated a great day of riding with a Cherry Blizzard.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

SIR Fall 400K Pre-ride: Lions & Tigers & Bears! Oh My!

What a ride! Yes, there were Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Oh My! ... well, sort of anyway. I was laying (Lion) stunned on the bridge deck. Mark Thomas was wrestling like a Tiger to free my bike from the bridge's grasp, and we saw a bear and could have been right up next to another one. Oh My ... well that's the short version of what Dorothy (my wife) is going to say. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I had been planning to ride the 1000K at the end of this week, but had been vacilating ... hadn't signed up for it yet and I really didn't want to miss two days of work this week. When I got back from riding to Sunrise on Mt.Rainier this Sunday, there was an e-mail from Mark Thomas ... did anyone want to pre-ride the 400K with him ... starting Monday night. This was the answer to my dilema ... with a little juggling I was set.

We took off right around 8:00 PM. The forecast was for occasional showers, with a low of about 59. Not the best forecast, but it could be a lot worse. It was nice to start off with a bit of light ... easier to get settled in for the ride that way. But the light didn't last long ... it was dark before we hit Snohomish. From Snohomish we took the Centennial Trail. A nice way to ride in the dark ... no traffic to worry about, no glass, and no potholes. While it wasn't raining per se, it was misting a lot ... sometimes quite a bit. Had to keep wiping the glasses and definately needed the rain jacket.

The scenery on the Darrington - Marblemount - Baker Lake portion of the ride is fantastic ... you will enjoy it a lot. We, however, didn't get to see it - it was dark and cloudy - even a bit rainy and foggy at times also. The riding was fantastic. The stretch from Darrington to Marblemount was especially pleasurable ... quiet (only two cars the whole stretch), with easy riding ...downhill or practically flat (all except that one uphill about 2/3rds the way up Rockport-Cascade Road, right where the dog comes out and chases you as you start up the hill). Now Mark had advertised "Breakfast in Marblemount ... but at 3:30 AM nothing was open, so breakfast choices were somewhat limited ... you'll have better luck I'm sure. We were blessed with a secret control staffed by Dan Turner - some food and beverages that really helped ... thanks Dan!

Leaving Concrete to head to Baker Lake was the most memorable hill climbing experience I think I've ever had - Burbee Hill Road. First of all, it was steep - over 10 % grade much of the way. And this isn't a short little climb ... think Everready - it keeps going, and going, and going! Steep by itself isn't that big a deal. Throw in fresh oil and gravel and you've got some fun. Think loose gravel, with piles in places! We had the pleasure of doing this in the dark, with fog - thick fog. I was concerned about going over the edge ... I think there was an edge there somewhere ... as we weaved back and forth, trying to make headway and keep some traction. We could have passed within a few feet of a bear and never known it.

The ride desciption calls this "a really nice road featured on one of our Permanents". All I can say is if this is nice I don't want to see a bad one. On the other hand, perhaps they were referencing Baker Lake Road, which you take from the end of Burbee Hill road to Baker Lake Resort. The ride back down to 20 on Baker Lake Road from the Burbee Hill Road intersection is awesome !

On the way up, we did finally make it up Burbee Hill Road and turned onto Baker Lake Road for the ramining 14 miles or so. A little more than half way up a bridge had been washed out and is being replaced with a temporary one. There are warning signs ... Motorcycles use extreme caution. I was a bozo. I didn't make the connection that if motorcycles (with two wheels) need to be extra careful, perhaps bicycles (also with two wheels) need to be extra careful also. While I slowed some, I didn't slow enough. The temporary bridge deck was built of wood. It had been raining ... wood was wet ... wood was slick. The wood structure has some dips in it ... especially along the right hand side as you travel uphill. I wanted to avoid the dips, so I shifted slightly (had to avoid sudden changes due to the wood being slick). Oops. There are gaps between the timbers. Oh $#%&! my wheel is falling in ... I fly over the handlebars, land on my chest and chin. I am laying there stunned. I take inventory and fortunately I am basically okay ... a few scrapes on my chin, my wrist, my knee ... and a sore jaw and chest. My bike ... looks okay, but is wedged in pretty good. Mark struggles mightily with it a tiger, but eventually frees it. I ask him to check it out ... I'm still a bit dazed and am focused on making sure I'm really all in one piece. Mark tests out the bike ... the wheels turn .. nothings bent ... looks like we're in business. Good thing too, since we are in the middle of nowhere with no cell reception.

After a few minutes to recover, we press on. We eventually make it to Baker Lake Resort ... no restaurant. Darn, we had been hoping for a nice breakfast. Also, the Store was closed (will be open on Sat though). There is a pop machine ... some caffeine would be helpful. I don't realize that all the good selections are sold out until after I put my money in. Oh well. On the way out I take a picture of the lake. There are a couple of pretty decent climbs on the way down to SR-20 ... two climbs of about 300 feet each, although relatively gradual 4 to 7-8 % grades. And we do see a bear on the way down!

We finally had breakfast around 10:00 AM ... in Lyman, 9 miles before Sedro Wooley. There were several customers there, but there were more flies than customers. I was a bit worried. However, when the food arrived it was good ... plentiful and filling. Just what we needed.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. While we had made pretty good time up until Concrete, we were slowiing down noticeably as the day wore on ... the lack of sleep and the miles were catching up to us. The last stretch was particuarly challenging ... Woodinville - Duvall Road during rush hour ! and then the last hill up to Mark's house ... with grades of 13- 16 %. We made it to the end at 6:30 PM ... 22 hours and 40 minutes. Not a particularly fast ride, but we did it!

While I definitely enjoyed the ride itself (aside from the bridge fiasco), hopefully the ride itself will be enhanced ...we made numerous refinements to the route sheet and a few to the route itself. And you've been forewarned about the dangerous bridge (look at the route sheet for specific location).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

RUSA 243 Sunrise Climb

I was feeling a bit guilty for missing the RUSA 10th Anniversary ride yesterday, but in much better shape after a day of recovery. I really had planned on riding yesterday, but I just didn't recover fast enough from Friday's ride.

I headed out to Black Diamond to start the ride early, leaving the first control about 6:15. It was about 70 and a bit muggy already, but that was much cooler than the past few days have been, so it felt pretty nice. It stayed nice like that almost the whole ride. There were scatterrd clouds along with blue sky, but fortunately the clouds hid the sun almost the whole time. For much of he way between Enumclaw and Greenwater, there was a pretty decent headwind ... with luck it will hold for the way back!

In the picture to the right, where a large stream joins the White River, you can see why they call it the White River ...

I made it to the White River Ranger station by 10:30 and started the long grind up, reaching the top right about noon. While it sure takes a while to get up there, the views along the way and up at the top sure make it worthwhile. The picture to the left shows some lava flows seen on the ride up; the one below shows the view from the 6100 foot viewpoint looking away from Mt.Rainier.

The ride back down was a blast. Not racing down, but simply enjoying the ride. The last few times I've ridden along 410 headed towards Enumclaw there has been a headwind that was just strong enough to shave a few mph off the ride ... not today. While there wasn't a strong headwind, it was either calm or perhaps just a little tailwind. In any case it was great! Temperatures were nice until I hit Enumclaw, which was very hot and very, very muggy. Got back to Black Diamond a bit before 4:00 PM. A very enjoyable ride!

Friday, August 15, 2008

RUSA 341 Leschi - North Bend - Leschi

While I had been on a few short rides (15 miles) over the past three weeks, may lack of riding was getting to me. Even though I would be able to ride the RUSA 10th anniversary ride the next day, I couldn't wait. The stars were lining up and I could get a ride in on Friday. Yes!

I needed to come up with a new information control question for the Leschi - North Bend - Leschi ride as there had been some changes at the Nestle Regional Training Center - now Camp Korey at Carnation Farms. The old question no longer worked. So the specific ride was decided.

Since it was going to be a hot day, I figured I'd start early to take advantage of the cooler temps in the AM. I rode to the start - five miles or so - and started riding just after 6 AM. Boy,, it sure felt good to be back on the bike again. I was soon on the Burke Gilman, heading north. Around Sand Point a bunch of riders came onto the trail - turns out today is the start of the RSVP ride and they use the Burke Gilman and part of the Samamish River trail ... so I had plenty of company for quite a while. They turned off in Woodinville. I kept going and made pretty good time - it was great riding conditions.

Avondale Road, Novelty Hill, West Samamish Valley Road all zipped by pretty quickly (well, I suppose the hill part of Novelty Hill Road wasn't all that fast). Pretty soon I was at Carnation Farms, or what was the Nestle Training facility, but now is Camp Korey at Carnation Farms. While not a lot of changes from the road, the old info control questions definately no longer worked - so I came up with some new ones ... you'll have to go on the ride to find out what they are!

While the temperatures were warming up, the riding was still pretty comfortable as I climbed up to Snoqualmie Falls and headed towards North Bend ... this is such a pretty ride, especially along here. At North Bend I grabbed a quick bite qnd drink at QFC, then headed back towards Fall City. The lack of riding and the heat were catching up to me as I climbed up from Fall City towards Issaquah ... I definately slowed down. I appreaciated all the trees along the Issaquah - Fall City road ... and bemoaned the lack of them along the climb up Highlands Drive.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful ... and hot. The lady at the Shell station in Maple Valley offered me some water as I purchased some gatorade, commenting that she was concerned I was going to pass out due to the heat and she was going to have to give me mouth to mouth. Then she talked about how she would run around on the lava flows in Hawaii with her top off. It was time for me to go ...